Conscious and Nonconscious Components of Superstitious Beliefs in Judgment and Decision

Making
Author(s): Thomas Kramer and Lauren Block
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 34, No. 6 (April 2008), pp. 783-793
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/523288
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Consider the following passage describing a corporate executive reported in Fortune (Gunn 1997. we show that superstitious beliefs have a robust influence on product satisfaction and decision making under risk. associate editor. It is hardly surprising that the Beijing Summer Olympics are scheduled to open on August 8. In addition. New York. In particular. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .00 This content downloaded from 168. and a Chinese airline paid 2. CUNY. business in general that day (Palazzolo 2005).4 million yuan for the telephone number 8888 8888 (Yardley 2006).176. often hiring feng shui experts who apply these superstitious Chinese practices to offices in esteemed companies such as Smith Barney and Morgan Stanley (Tsang 2004).5. The authors wish to thank David Luna and Sankar Sen for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. a recent newspaper article noted that a young businessman in Guangzhou.12 million yuan. Furthermore.000 yuan (almost seven times the country’s per capita annual income) for lucky license plate APY888. NY 10010. 1 Bernard Baruch Way. Although academic research has recognized the importance of other various elements of the social and cultural environments in marketing. ● Vol. This lack of investigation into superstitious beliefs is all the more surprising given their strong impact on the marketplace. prominently featuring a number that is perceived to be lucky in Chinese cultures. 34 ● April 2008 All rights reserved. John Deighton served as editor and Mary Frances Luce served as associate editor for this article. companies are adopting the principles of feng shui. and we currently know even less about the implications of superstitious beliefs for consumers. exemplifies the use of cultural superstitious beliefs in marketing practice. Furthermore. Baruch College. and three reviewers. Both authors contributed equally and are listed in reverse alphabetical order. Lucky You. the degree to which superstition’s effects are based on a conscious versus nonconscious process has remained unexamined. Inc.m. such as values (Han and Shavitt 1994). Correspondence: Thomas Kramer.cuny. Using a process-dissociation task. goals (Aaker and Lee 2001).Conscious and Nonconscious Components of Superstitious Beliefs in Judgment and Decision Making THOMAS KRAMER LAUREN BLOCK* Despite the large impact that superstitious beliefs have on the marketplace. we currently know very little about their implications for consumer judgment and decision making. we further demonstrate the distinct conscious versus nonconscious components of the effect of superstition on decision making under risk.edu) is professor of marketing at the Zicklin School of Business. at 8 p. The manuscript benefited greatly from the insightful comments and suggestions received from the editor. China. between $800 and $900 million is lost in business in the United States each Friday the thirteenth because people do not want to go to work or tend to *Thomas Kramer (thomas_kramer@baruch.cuny.edu) is assistant professor of marketing and Lauren Block (lauren_block@baruch. For example. Electronically published October 9. We document the existence of the influence of superstitious beliefs on consumer behavior and specify their conscious and nonconscious underlying properties. individuals’ superstitious beliefs and their impact on consumer judgments and decision making have received surprisingly little attention. bid 54.” It is therefore surprising that academic research provides such little empirical evidence on the effect of superstition on business decision making. an increasing number of U.118 on Thu. 0093-5301/2008/3406-0006$10. $888 to Beijing.S. or language (Luna and Peracchio 2005). The current study seeks to address these shortcomings by not only documenting the existence and robustness of the influence of superstitious T his recent Continental Airlines ad. 2008. these effects are only observed when superstitious beliefs are allowed to work nonconsciously. However. Another 69 small pieces run along the ledge of an internal window to deflect the heat and bad energy from computers and fax machines on the other side. 2007 783 䉷 2007 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH. 64): “Twelve softball-sized stones sit on his windowsill to guard against negative forces from surrounding buildings. a man in Hangzhou offered to sell his license plate A88888 on the Internet for 1.

However. The current research therefore starts with a focus on the use of superstitious explanations for nonpersonal or inanimate object failure. Although superstitions can be found the world over. and a job applicant may wear a lucky outfit for a job interview. investigating Chinese consumers’ perceptions of alphanumeric brand names. the number 4 and the color black) are also associated with unlucky consequences (Wiseman and Watt 2004). superstitious beliefs are most often culturally specific. as deepsea fishermen in New Guinea often do when they perform elaborate magical rituals to ensure a successful fishing trip (Malinowski 1954). Vyse 1997). the more people use superstitious strategies to explain the failed outcome.. to date. the Bank of China opened its doors in Hong Kong on August 8.5. 1988—considered to be the luckiest day of the century (Lip 1992). A content analysis of Chinese advertising showed that unlucky number 4 was This content downloaded from 168. Each of these superstitious beliefs and behaviors is associated with desired positive outcomes. that is. students can often be seen bringing lucky charms or lucky pens to an exam. For example. walking under a ladder. reported in Darke and Freedman [1997b]). Some buildings in China have no fourth floor. Engaging in ritualistic behavior of this sort is consistent with Darke and Freedman’s (1997b) empirical work on luck. older relatives give children lucky red envelopes with money inside. neutral) superstition is made salient. For example. However. Next. For example. products).176.. an athlete may not change socks during a tournament. We begin with the impact of superstitious beliefs on consumer satisfaction following product failure by showing that consumers are less (more) satisfied with a product for which they hold positive (negative) superstitious associations based on its color. Although many superstitions are culturally shared and socially transmitted from generation to generation. therefore. we review literature on superstition and describe three studies that tested our hypotheses. They demonstrated that people’s associations of luck with one performance create expectations about luck that extend beyond this single event to other independent and unrelated events. in their decision making under uncertainty. Colors and numbers (e. the product quantity. as Michael Jordan did when he changed the number on his uniform to change his luck after several inferior performances (USA Today. we find that these effects are only observed when superstitious beliefs are allowed to work nonconsciously. Morales and Fitzsimons showed that irrational beliefs about one product can be contagious and affect other products. concluded that the more salient the failure is. Superstitions are also invoked to bring about good luck.118 on Thu. others consist of relatively more idiosyncratic beliefs or rituals. systematic study of such effects on managerial and consumer decision making is just beginning to enter the marketing literature. we demonstrate that the effects of superstitious beliefs are not limited to Asian consumers. In addition. and some parents refuse to let their children travel in unlucky taxis on the day of their college entrance exam (Yardley 2006).JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 784 beliefs on consumer behavior but also specifying their conscious versus nonconscious underlying properties.g.e. Examples of common superstitious beliefs in the United States include horseshoes and knocking on wood for good luck. During Chinese New Year. Research also suggests that people are motivated to rely on superstitious beliefs when their control over an event is undermined or threatened.. Next. and the number 13. we provide evidence that even though the effect of superstitious beliefs on decision making has both conscious and nonconscious components. Case et al. The consistent finding across these studies was that as the likelihood of failure increased. THEORETICAL BACKGROUND Belief in Superstition Superstitions are beliefs that are inconsistent with the known laws of nature or with what is generally considered rational in a society (American Heritage Dictionary 1985). We then discuss the theoretical and practical implications of this research. people expect to do well on a subsequent task. Case et al. this research has been limited to studies of personal failure.g. Superstitions may be invoked to fend off bad luck. The color red and the number 8 are associated with prosperity and good luck. A8) were perceived more favorably than those containing unlucky letters and numbers (e. the contribution of nonconscious processing to the effect is three times the relative size of the conscious effect we observe. Given the importance placed on rationality and associated norms against relying on superstition in many modern societies (Vyse 1997).. Finally. either consciously or nonconsciously. (2004) conducted a series of studies investigating the relationship between the use of superstitious strategies and perceived control.g. such as product failures. so did the use of superstitious beliefs. Ang (1997) found that those containing lucky numbers and letters (e. The question remains whether superstitious beliefs are transferred to inanimate objects in the case of product failures. Chinese individuals often seek to deflect bad luck by putting up mirrors in their homes (Simmons and Schindler 2003). or the digits used in its price. Morales and Fitzsimons (2007) recently demonstrated the transference of irrational beliefs onto inanimate objects (i. Superstitions in the Marketplace Despite the prevalence of superstitious beliefs. F4). showing that participants from the United States make significantly more risk-averse choices when a negative (vs. or breaking a mirror for bad luck. Belief in superstition dates back thousands of years and continues to the present (Jahoda 1969. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the degree to which the effects of superstition operate nonconsciously is an interesting open question. Though their study did not explore superstitious beliefs. we still do not know the degree to which consumers use superstitious beliefs.

It is interesting to note that they also found that a higher need for material possessions led to greater superstitious beliefs (Mowen and Carlson 2003). in turn. the literature on superstition repeatedly speculates that superstitious beliefs are automatically activated. may influence how satisfied consumers will be (Oliver 1980. consumers will be more satisfied with a product for which they hold negative (vs. and recommendation of products or firms to other consumers. there is no empirical evidence on the process by which superstitions influence decisions. Chinese consumers might expect a red rice cooker to perform better than a green one. which is a major driver of purchase (Oliver 1999). Analogously. and (2) when the main task makes superstitious This content downloaded from 168. Support for the nonconscious nature of processing stems from the conceptually similar work on the processing of stereotypes. we add to this nascent body of knowledge by examining how superstitious beliefs influence product satisfaction and consumers’ risk-taking behavior. H1b: Following product failure. Bargh and Chartrand 1999. Despite these assertions.e. nonconscious (vs. This body of work is a beginning to creating a literature on superstitions in the marketplace. Further support for an automatic component of superstition dates back to Freud’s suggestion that superstition is associated with one’s projection of fears and wishes in a person’s unconscious (Tsang 2004). As discussed above. We used priming manipulations to test for conscious versus nonconscious processing in our studies. Specifically. telling others not to buy the brand). paying more money for fewer units of a product or a greater willingness to purchase a product at a relatively higher price). van Raaij 1991). when faced with a superstitious cue. Differences in expectations. warnings (i. However. students who come to class with their lucky pen. many individuals subscribe to and rely on superstitions in a conscious manner. we hypothesize the following: H1a: Following product failure.. Bargh. Therefore. We suggest that the superstitious associations that individuals hold concerning an object’s attributes (e. Satisfaction is one of the most researched constructs in marketing (Oliver 1999) because of its influence on consumers’ postpurchase behaviors. priming can influence subsequent judgments through a nonconscious process when the priming task is seemingly unrelated to the main task (Bargh 1994.5. consumers will be less satisfied with a product for which they hold positive (vs. More generally. Accordingly. as we investigate. positive word of mouth. we predict that superstitious associations with product attributes will also influence expected product performance and. and contrasting away from the prime when individuals are aware of the prime (Bargh 1994). Like stereotypes. That is.g. Chen. consumers’ satisfaction following product failure. These include profitable behaviors following satisfactory product performance. and consumers who read their horoscope or do not want to close on their mortgage on Friday the thirteenth. neutral) superstitious associations. such as negative word of mouth. color) will influence how well they believe the object itself should perform.. cultural superstitions are likely to be automatically activated but can subsequently be controlled consciously. and Taiwan (Simmons and Schindler 2003). Satisfaction is inextricably linked to customer loyalty.SUPERSTITION AND DECISION MAKING underrepresented and lucky number 8 was overrepresented in advertised prices in China. In particular. 1993). as well as harmful behaviors following dissatisfactory product performance. research suggests that primes can affect subsequent judgments in one of two ways: in the predicted direction of the prime when individuals are unaware of the prime. In fact. we sought to examine the processing underlying the impact of superstition with priming tasks that varied in how obviously the primes were related to the subsequent dependent measures. and age—in fact do not. For example. like a Friday the thirteenth calendar date. Hong Kong. since red is a lucky color. individuals rely on superstition or superstitious rituals in the hope that these behaviors will bring them luck and help them perform better. Next. and Burrows 1996.176. make a conscious decision based on superstitious associations with the object or date. Mowen and Carlson (2003) studied the possible trait antecedents of superstition. Similarly. and complaints to firms (Swan and Oliver 1989). With this article.118 on Thu. Such reversals of rationality suggest that superstitious beliefs may also work on a nonconscious level.g. other research from the current authors finds that superstitious beliefs can lead to behavior contrary to financial common sense (e. Strack et al. in an exploration of the consumer-behavior-related consequences of superstition. They found that many of the antecedents one might expect to correlate with superstitious beliefs—such as education level. superstitious beliefs may be a source of information relied upon in evaluation and satisfaction judgments. superstitious beliefs represent a set of cultural associations that are learned through socialization processes and are socially transmitted (Devine 1989). neutral) superstitious associations. Research shows that these sets of associations are automatically or unintentionally activated by the presence of a cue in the environment (Devine 1989).. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Providing support for the relative impact of conscious versus nonconscious elements of superstitions would therefore help fill a large gap in the theory and understanding of such belief systems. 785 Conscious and Nonconscious Components of Superstition Clearly. In other words. Oliver and Bearden 1985. such as repurchase. conscious) processing can be detected (1) when the priming task makes superstitious beliefs salient but the main task does not. but can be adjusted through conscious thought.

and price (TW$6. depending on the randomly assigned condition). “My choice to buy This content downloaded from 168. As mentioned. depending on the randomly assigned condition.. subjects were told to imagine that they were going to buy a digital camera and had found one that was described in terms of three features (5 megapixels. lucky color red) nonconsciously influence subsequent judgments (e.. Chinese cultures tend to hold positive superstitious beliefs concerning the color red. subjects read a short essay that discussed the importance of cultural awareness for international marketers. a neutral number) tennis balls per pack. 5X zoom. Next. use of English (vs. Since research has shown that cultural values can be made temporarily accessible through language (Hong et al. prior research suggests that subsequent judgments are derived through a conscious processing of the activated beliefs (Bargh 1994). and color. The second problem concerned the purchase of tennis balls. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and subjects were instructed to imagine that they had come across a package by Gamma Championship that contained either 8 (i. Chinese cultures tend to hold negative superstitious associations with the number 4.55. the majority of participants had the most positive superstitious beliefs concerning the color red and the number 8.e.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 786 beliefs salient but the priming task does not. a separate sample of 24 Taiwanese individuals were asked (open-ended) in a pretest which numbers and colors represented the most good luck and bad luck. or the color green. lower satisfaction). Here. Mandarin) in our studies provides a more stringent test of our hypotheses with this sample because our materials may have primed a Western worldview and thereby reduced reliance on superstitions grounded in Chinese culture.e. In the control condition.555. subjects read about the importance of political awareness for international marketers. subjects were told to complete the second questionnaire on consumer preferences. Subjects were then asked to imagine that they had purchased the camera but that it broke a few weeks later and could not be repaired. length of keep-warm time. Supporting prior findings in the literature (Ang 1997).. The two essays were matched in terms of number of words and reading difficulty. subjects rated their expected satisfaction with the product described in the problem on the following scales (where 1 p strongly disagree and 7 p strongly agree): “I am satisfied with my decision to buy the [product]. where it is the prime condition—unrelated to the main task—that drives the nonconscious processing. It is important to point out that our questionnaires were prepared and completed in English. when the priming task is obviously related to the main task. which were consequently chosen as the neutral attribute-related superstitions. one choice was described in terms of neutral attributes and one choice had an attribute with superstitious associations. The first three attributes were kept constant between conditions.5. because individuals of Chinese backgrounds have been reported to be among the most superstitious in the world (Simmons and Schindler 2003. Subjects were then instructed to assume that they had purchased the rice cooker but when they used it for the first time. presence of a timer. In the third problem. but no superstitious beliefs concerning the color green. in the first problem. but no superstitious beliefs concerning the number 5. Finally. In the superstition-salient condition. As we discussed. In particular. a lucky number) or 10 (i. we seek direct evidence of the relative nonconscious and conscious contribution to the effect of superstition in study 3. built-in flash) that were kept constant between conditions.g.44 vs.444.. Method: Participants and Procedure Forty-eight students from a Taiwanese university participated in a study on consumer preferences for class credit and were randomly assigned to the superstition-salient versus control condition. subjects were told to imagine that they needed to buy a rice cooker and had found one that was described in terms of capacity. No participant mentioned the numbers 5 and 10.118 on Thu. which is consistent with Lip (1992). If superstitious beliefs are made salient via a priming task. 2000). After finishing the first study. If superstitious beliefs activated in the primary task (e. evidence of nonconscious processing is detected with judgments consistent with superstitious beliefs in the control condition in study 1 and the priming condition in studies 2 and 3. We reverse this in studies 2 and 3. participants indicated their agreement that cultural awareness (political awareness) was important for marketers. knowledge of Cantonese may have resulted in the three subjects perceiving the number 6 to be lucky. their effects should be observed only when the main task appears to be unrelated to these primed beliefs. Alternatively. which was attached to the first (priming) task. while the color of the rice cooker was either red or green. then the effects hypothesized in hypotheses 1a and 1b should be obtained only in the control condition. Before the main study. who described this number as “an auspicious number because it sounds like ‘wealth’ in Cantonese. Tsang 2004). most participants had the most negative superstitious beliefs concerning the color black and the number 4. Part of the essay highlighted the impact of superstitions on consumer behavior. Conversely. TW$6. depending on the randomly assigned condition. it burnt the rice.” “I think it was the wrong thing when I decided to buy the [product]” (reverse-scored). subjects read three scenarios in which they were told to imagine that they were going to buy a product. After each scenario. Subjects were told to assume that they had purchased the tennis balls but that they had fallen apart after a few matches. but not when superstitious beliefs are also activated via a priming task. STUDY 1 We begin to test our hypotheses in a study with Taiwanese subjects. We test for conscious versus nonconscious processing in study 1 by priming superstition so as to make such beliefs salient to the individual versus a control condition in which no priming of superstition occurs.g. Three subjects mentioned the number 6 as a lucky number.” Although the native language of our subjects was Mandarin.176. In sum.

and .25b 3. 2. In particular. when superstitions were not salient. 41) p 7.28a 3. 41) p 11. p ! . participants expected to be significantly less satisfied following product failure of the tennis balls containing the attribute with which they had positive (vs.176.62. low) were between-subject variables.69b NOTE. p ! .67.06a 3.86 . when superstitions were not salient (control prime). participants expected to be significantly less satisfied following product failure of the rice cooker containing the attribute with which they had positive (vs. Similarly. and as shown in table 1. t(44) p 4. participants were marginally more satisfied following product failure of the tennis balls containing the attribute with which they had positive (vs.118 on Thu.05).89b 1. subjects indicated the extent of their knowledge of spoken and written English (where 1 p not at all and 7 p very much so). when superstitions were made salient. .87 for the rice cooker.001) and the colors red versus green (M p 4. confirming hypothesis 1b. 3. We found that the effect of superstition on satisfaction was attenuated with the salience of superstitious beliefs.001).83. To test our proposition that superstitious effects are at least partially driven by a nonconscious process. 41) p 5. Note however that. and product category (tennis balls. p ! .71. t(44) p 3.73a present absent 3. directionally. p ! . digital camera) was a repeated measure. Next.02).5. when superstitions were made salient.01). Superstitious associations (present vs. In addition. when superstitions were not salient. we showed that product failure leads to higher satisfaction for products with associated negative superstitions. we employed a repeated-measures design. p ! . 41) p 3. As expected. 4.07 vs. Finally.” and “I am not happy that I bought the [product]” (reverse-scored).” “8 is a lucky number. rice cooker. p ! .89c 2. supporting hypothesis 1a. 41) p 9.” Results Manipulation Checks. t(44) p 3.07. a p . As expected.” “green is a lucky color.44 vs. neutral) associations (F(1. participants were more satisfied following product failure of the lucky red (vs.001).84b 2.15. separate experimental conditions made the association between the activation task and the dependent measure obvious.66. neutral) associations (F(1. participants were less satisfied following product failure of the digital camera containing the attribute with which they had negative (vs.” and “5 is a lucky number. participants expected to be significantly more satisfied following product failure of the digital camera containing the attribute with which they had negative (vs.” “4 is a lucky number.” “10 is a lucky number.73c 2.75c 3. It is interesting to note that when superstitions were made salient.10). but less satisfied with the digital camera ending with the digit 4 versus 5.73. However. superstitious beliefs for the digital camera were negative. neutral) associations (F(1.05).60a 4. p ! . subjects indicated their agreement (where 1 p strongly disagree and 7 p strongly agree) on the following scales: “red is a lucky color. Superstitious beliefs for the tennis balls and rice cooker were positive. Participants also differed in their negative associations with the numbers 4 versus 5 (M p 3. respectively. To establish the generalizability of the effect across different product categories and superstitious beliefs within a single study. neutral) associations (F(1. neutral green) cooker (M p 3. This content downloaded from 168. It is interesting to note that we obtained preliminary evidence that when superstitious beliefs were made salient. neutral) associations (F(1. p ! .05 . 3. participants were equally satisfied following product failure of the rice cooker ( p 1 . Discussion Study 1 demonstrated how positive superstitious beliefs concerning colors and numbers affect product satisfaction judgments. tennis balls.— Means within a prime condition with different superscripts are different at p ! . directionally more satisfied with the red versus green rice cooker. again supporting hypothesis 1a. As manipulation checks. absent) and superstition salience (high vs. participants were marginally more satisfied with 8 versus 10 tennis balls. participants differed in their positive associations with the numbers 8 versus 10 (M p 4. In particular. showing that product failure results in lower satisfaction for products for which positive superstitious associations with an attribute exist. An ANOVA on the satisfaction index across the three product categories yielded only the expected superstitious association by superstition salience interaction (F(1. Three subjects rated their knowledge of English as lower than the scale midpoint and were hence eliminated. Product Satisfaction.73 vs.01).36.29.65.67 vs. the effect may even reverse when participants are aware that the priming and evaluation tasks are related. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .89). p ! . and digital camera. TABLE 1 THE EFFECTS OF SUPERSTITION SALIENCE AND SUPERSTITIOUS ASSOCIATIONS ON PRODUCT SATISFACTION Control prime: Superstitious associations Superstitious associations Superstitious prime: Superstitious associations Superstitious associations Tennis balls Rice cooker Digital camera present absent 2.SUPERSTITION AND DECISION MAKING 787 the [product] was a wise one.07).61.78c 2. 41) p 4. leaving a final sample size of 45 Taiwanese.54.

That is. men outperform women.S. and Corfman 2006) demonstrated that consumers who were induced with feelings of anxiety. Wegener and Petty 1995). as well as for the results we find in study 1. 4. in their work on stereotype reactance. For example. In particular. the first study consisted of the prime. subtle) prime caused women to react against the negative stereotype. (2004).77 for Friday the thirteenth vs. each of which consisted of a sure win of a small amount and a gamble to win either a large amount or nothing. Pham. NS).e. they correct their judgment in a direction opposite to that of the perceived bias and in an amount commensurate with the perceived amount of bias (Petty and Wegener 1993. not salient). Next. reactance. Tuesday the nineteenth. as mentioned earlier. We expected that priming participants with Friday the thirteenth and its associated potential for bad luck (vs. debriefed. Navy will not launch a ship on Friday the thirteenth. they could choose between the option to receive $12 for sure or the option to have a 25% chance to receive $175 and a 75% chance to receive nothing.. In particular. one of the most prominent superstitions held by Americans is that Friday the thirteenth brings bad luck. Findings in the affect and consumer behavior literature provide support for our proposition. subjects were thanked. 93) p 1. Results Manipulation Check. In particular. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Further support for the influence of superstitious beliefs on risk-taking behavior comes from the literature on gambling and the illusion of control (Langer 1975). negative) prime resulted in more negative likeability ratings. STUDY 2 Method: Participants and Procedure Ninety-five students from an East Coast university participated in a study on consumer preferences in exchange for $5. Harris 2006). and many Americans will not fly. subjects were told to imagine that in exchange for participating in a study. (1993) showed that when participants were made aware of the priming task. disguised as a life inventory survey. and Katz 1966). Apparently. Lewicki. and dismissed. Kray et al. we thus found support for a nonconscious component to the process of superstitious beliefs on consumer behavior. F(1. from architecture to personal risk aversion: 90% of Otis elevators have no thirteenth-floor button. Next. we predict that subjects would avoid taking risks (i. and potential bad luck chose safer options that provided more control (i. In particular. Following the life inventory study. Furthermore. paraskevidekatriaphobia influences a wide variety of decisions. a positive (vs. In reality. In fact. start a new job. disagreements were resolved This content downloaded from 168. Raghunathan and Pham (1999. following a subtle.e.. It is estimated that as many as 9% of Americans are paraskevidekatriaphobics: afflicted with a fear of Friday the thirteenth (Vyse 1997). see also Raghunathan.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 788 This finding is in line with prior research on priming. two independent raters categorized subjects’ thoughts as negative or reflecting bad luck. In study 1. Inter-rater agreement was 94%. the blatant (vs.5. (2004) found that blatantly activating gender stereotypes (i. Kray et al. a motivation to restore a threatened freedom and an increased attractiveness of the constrained behavior (Brehm 1966). depending on the randomly assigned condition. The total number of items listed did not differ by condition (M p 5. However. These induced states are consistent with the activation of superstitious beliefs associated with Friday the thirteenth. our next study tested how salience of Friday the thirteenth affects decision making under risk. the U. Petty and Wegener posit that when judges are motivated and able to identify potential sources of bias arising from their naive theories of how the contextual influence operates. a neutral prime: Tuesday the nineteenth) would result in their making more risk-averse choices. choose a sure win of a smaller amount over a gamble to win a larger amount) in subsequent choices. explicitly linking masculine traits to negotiator effectiveness) actually results in women outperforming men in negotiations.. After indicating their preferences in the two bets. while the first study has shown that superstitious beliefs have a robust effect on the consumer behavior of Taiwanese participants.76. Therefore. in the first bet problem. even stronger support for a nonconscious process would be obtained if we could corroborate these findings in our next study in a priming condition in which activation of superstitions on subsequent judgments is followed by an unrelated choice task.118 on Thu. or close on a house on this date (Brockenbrough 2006. get married. implicit prime. in our next study we investigate if culturally relevant superstitions affect American individuals as well.176. H2: Consumers make more risk-averse choices when negative superstitions are salient (vs. Specifically. More recently. Subjects were told that they would participate in two unrelated studies. Specifically. subjects completed an ostensibly unrelated questionnaire in which they were asked to indicate their preferences for two different bets. As we discussed. Petty and Wegener’s Flexible Correction Model provides an interesting explanation for these results.e. they exhibited risk-averse behavior). in bet 2.67 vs. subjects were told to imagine choosing between receiving $18 for sure versus a 20% chance to win $240 and an 80% chance to win nothing. respectively. gamblers bet more money and were more confident of winning when throwing the dice themselves than when someone else threw the dice for them. uncertainty. and bias correction. in addition to seeking further evidence for a nonconscious component of the effect of superstition. Conversely. since priming Friday the thirteenth makes the possibility of bad luck accessible. subjects were told that we were compiling a list of things that come to mind when thinking about Friday the thirteenth or Tuesday the nineteenth. even though in both cases the probability of winning was the same (Strickland. Strack et al. have also demonstrated that awareness of a prime can lead to reactance.

In the next study. 50% of subjects in the superstition-salient condition.96. p ! . In other words. we use a decompositional technique that allows for calculation of the conscious and nonconscious processing components by solving a set of simultaneous equations (see Fitzsimons and Williams [2000] for a full exposition of the technique and background literature). subjects were randomly assigned to gambles that differ in their level of outcome uncertainty. chose the safe option. Wald’s x 2 p 6. where 1 denotes choice of the safe option. The dependent variable was a 0–1 dummy variable. Malinowski 1954). This suggests that conscious thoughts only partially mediate the choice of the safe option. Further.01). Wald’s x 2 p 4.01) and thoughts related to bad luck (B p . control) prime. Jacoby 1991). Further evidence for nonconscious processing comes from a series of regressions that test for the mediational role of the conscious thoughts that subjects expressed in the priming manipulation.91. in addition to the superstitious prime manipulation.70. In particular.. However.90. across the two bets.176. As expected. This content downloaded from 168. p ! . Thus.118 on Thu. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . superstition salience was a significant predictor of the mean choice of the safe option (B p 1. priming had a significant effect on choice of safe option and number of negative-valenced thoughts and thoughts related to bad luck.06. subjects in the high-uncertainty (magnification) condition would be more likely to choose a safe option than subjects in the low-uncertainty (reduction) condition. and high cognitive load. low uncertainty (LR). low cognitive load.001).S. we employed a second manipulation (level of uncertainty) that would either magnify or reduce the effect of superstition. this study’s finding that the effect of superstitious beliefs is obtained when their activation and the main dependent variable task are unrelated (but not when they are clearly related) further supports our proposition that there is a nonconscious component to the effect of superstitious beliefs. control) # 2 (cognitive load: high vs. the design of the study was a 2 (prime: superstitious vs. 789 they seem to represent a smaller proportion of the effect than the nonconscious component. although conscious thoughts are present and affect decision making.58. following the procedure set forth in Jacoby (1991) and Fitzsimons and Williams (2000). p ! .27 versus . .5.68. That is.SUPERSTITION AND DECISION MAKING through discussion. p ! .75 vs.11. low) betweensubject design. high cognitive load. The independent variables included (1) a dummy variable that had a value of 1 in the superstitious prime condition and (2) the twoway interaction between the prime manipulation and the bet problems. death.05). Similar results were obtained when we entered both priming and thoughts related to bad luck into the regression (priming B p 1. subjects listed significantly more items with negative associations (e.01). F(1. the effect of prime was diminished but still significant.01). In addition. such that the ability to engage in effortful. we seek to more fully understand the relative contribution of the conscious versus nonconscious components of superstition-driven decision making.628. Specifically. when conscious thoughts are included as a potential mediator.249. We expected that following the superstitious (vs. F(1. Finally. Wald’s x 2 p 11. when both priming and negatively valenced thoughts were entered into the regression. high uncertainty (HM). but not for subjects in the latter conditions. In particular.06. Following Fitzsimons and Williams (2000).17. negatively valenced thoughts (B p .g. high uncertainty (LM). low) # 2 (uncertainty: high vs. In particular. or unfortunate events) in the Friday the thirteenth than in the Tuesday the nineteenth condition (M p 2. in addition to the superstitious prime manipulation used in study 2. as was done in previous research using decompositional techniques (Fitzsimons and Williams 2000. STUDY 3 Objective The main objective of study 3 is to estimate the unique conscious and nonconscious influences of superstition on risky decision making.05) were each significant predictors of choice of the safe option. Wald’s x 2 p 8. p ! . horrible. Wald’s x 2 p 6. prime remained a significant predictor (B p . which allows us to calculate the effect of superstition in four key conditions: low cognitive load. as we discussed.83. we use an experimental methodology designed to estimate the distinct contributions of conscious and nonconscious processing to a single cognitive task. As described in detail below. p ! . Discussion Study 2 found that superstitions also affect the behavior of U. p ! . conscious processing was impaired for subjects in the former conditions. Choice of Safe Option. subjects completed the study under high versus low cognitive load. consumers. low uncertainty (HR).44. Thus. We conducted an overall test of our hypothesis across the two bet problems using a logit model. but only 24% of subjects in the control condition.68. participants became significantly more risk-averse in their choices after thinking about Friday the thirteenth. as compared to a day that is not associated with bad luck. As expected. Based on prior research that shows that reliance on superstitions tends to increase in times of greater uncertainty (Keinan 2002.001). Subjects also mentioned bad luck significantly more often following the Friday the thirteenth prime (M p . It is important to note that the two simultaneous equations are derived through setting up experimental scenarios such that in one scenario the conscious and nonconscious processes work in concert (magnification condition) and in another they act in opposition (reduction condition). 93) p 48. p ! . we chose a second manipulation that would either magnify or reduce the effect of superstition. The overall model was significant (x 2 (2) p 14. 93) p 47.

where 1 denotes choice of the safe option.16. Wald’s x 2 p 5. A 2 (prime) # 2 (cognitive load) # 2 (level of uncertainty) ANOVA on the total number of items listed yielded a significant effect for prime (M p 7. Choice of Safe Option. The independent variables included (1) a dummy variable that had a value of 1 in the superstitious prime condition and (2) the twoway interaction between the prime manipulation and the bet problems. and (8) the interactions between the bet problems and the prime. Following completion of the first bet problem. as demonstrated by a significant superstition salience by uncertainty interaction (B p 1. subjects indicated the choices they would make in two bet problems in which the level of uncertainty was manipulated by changing the odds of winning in the gamble option. we estimated the individual contributions of nonconscious versus conscious processing to the increase This content downloaded from 168. and dismissed after completion of the second bet problem. NS). In the second problem. Finally.97 for Friday the thirteenth vs. 22%.02).805. 138) p 281.43. p ! . The uncertainty manipulation had been pretested with a separate sample of 18 undergraduate students. These results replicate our findings from study 2.09. 5. Next. 49% of subjects in the superstition-salient condition.94.65. low) between-subject design. The overall model was significant (x 2 (8) p 24. Tuesday the nineteenth.64. Conscious versus Nonconscious Components of Superstitious Beliefs.176.02. subjects in the high cognitive load task were asked to recall as many of the product features as they could. 138) p 290.06. debriefed. and memorize as many of them as possible. reduction condition). Results Manipulation Check.07.05 vs. control) # 2 (cognitive load: high vs. The independent variables included (1) a dummy variable that had a value of 1 in the superstitious prime condition. Results indicated that. the effect of the superstitious prime was larger for subjects in the high-uncertainty (magnification) condition (40% vs. and uncertainty conditions. magnification condition) or between receiving $18 for sure versus a 20% chance to win $240 and an 80% chance to win nothing (low uncertainty. Subjects were also told that this was a very hard task but that some people in prior studies had been able to recall all of the features. were thanked. The overall model was significant (x 2 (2) p 6. As expected. Next. F(1.05) than for subjects in the low-uncertainty (reduction) condition (49% vs. A logit model was used to test for the unique conscious versus nonconscious components of the effect of superstition on risk aversion.72.64 vs. subjects listed significantly more items with negative associations in the Friday the thirteenth condition than in the Tuesday the nineteenth condition (M p 2. p ! . The dependent variable was a 0–1 dummy variable. for 2 minutes. respectively. subjects in the cognitive load condition turned the page and completed the main study on risk-taking behavior. p ! . After indicating their preferences in the second bet problem. subjects in the high cognitive load condition correctly recalled on average 8. We conducted an overall test of our hypothesis across the two bet problems using a logit model. Subjects in the low cognitive load condition were thanked. Next. superstition salience was a significant predictor of the mean choice of the safe option (B p .JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 790 Method: Participants and Procedure One hundred and forty-six students from an East Coast university participated in the study on consumer preferences in exchange for class credit in a 2 (prime: superstitious vs. (2) a dummy variable that had a value of 1 in the high uncertainty condition. B p 0. The dependent variable was a 0–1 dummy variable. p ! .06. but only 35% of subjects in the control condition. disagreements were resolved through discussion. F(1. Wald’s x 2 p 6. Subjects also mentioned bad luck significantly more often following the Friday the thirteenth prime (M p .86. In particular. where 1 denotes choice of the safe option. p ! .001).05). Subjects in the no-load condition completed the main study immediately after the priming manipulation.06 versus . (7) the three-way interaction between the prime.5. cognitive load. F(1.29 of the 20 product features. (5) the two-way interaction between the prime and cognitive load manipulations. following Fitzsimons and Williams (2000).01). Wald’s x 2 p 5. two independent raters categorized subjects’ thoughts as nega- tive or reflecting bad luck. subjects in the high cognitive load conditions were reminded of the subsequent product feature recall task. p ! . and dismissed. across the two bets. the uncertain conditions were rated as containing more uncertainty than the certain conditions (t p 2.08. Inter-rater agreement was 92%. p ! . debriefed. B p . low) # 2 (uncertainty: high vs. Results showed that our magnification-reduction manipulation worked as intended. In particular. chose the safe option. and uncertainty manipulations.05).118 on Thu.05). 47%. After the Friday the thirteenth versus Tuesday the nineteenth prime. magnification condition) or between receiving $12 for sure versus a 25% chance to win $175 and a 75% chance to win nothing (low uncertainty. As expected. Wald’s x 2 p .02 .25.05).001). 138) p 5. reduction condition). 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . overall. (3) a dummy variable that had a value of 1 in the low cognitive load condition. p ! . subjects in the high cognitive load condition received an ostensibly unrelated study on comparing products that asked them to study a list of 20 features on which products can differ. except where noted below. subjects were asked to choose either between receiving $18 for sure versus a 50% chance to win $96 and a 50% chance to win nothing (high uncertainty. . cognitive load. After studying the list. (4) the two-way interaction between the prime and uncertainty manipulations. The procedure was identical to the one used in the previous study. subjects were asked to choose either between receiving $12 for sure versus a 45% chance to win $97 and a 55% chance to win nothing (high uncertainty. p ! . In the first problem. (6) the twoway interaction between the cognitive load and uncertainty manipulations.

that the effects of superstitious beliefs are greater under conditions of high uncertainty—that is. magnified (LM) Low cognitive load. namely. such as carrying a rabbit’s foot for good luck (Darke and Freedman 1997b). Malinowski posited that superstitions function to reduce anxiety arising from unknown or uncertain situations. we also found evidence for the moderating role of the level of uncertainty in the relationship between superstitious beliefs and risk-taking behavior.SUPERSTITION AND DECISION MAKING 791 in the choice share of the safe option following the superstitious prime (see table 2). Notably. 2 (2) CS l p LM ⫺ LR . students consciously bring lucky pens to class. Since that early work. and HR). The relative magnitude of the nonconscious to the conscious component demonstrates the significant effect that specific culture-bound beliefs can have on consumer behavior. magnified (HM) High cognitive load. The results of our current magnification/ reduction manipulation provided empirical evidence. 2 LM ⫺ LR ⫺1 HM ⫺ HR ( ) (1) CS h p HM ⫺ HR . however.5. 2 (3) Our results show that the nonconscious component of the effect of superstition leads to an increase of nearly 30% in the share of the safe option (NC). reduced (LR) High cognitive load. chose the sure-thing option). we calculated the conscious (CSh and CSl) versus nonconscious (NC) components of the effect according to the following equations developed by Fitzsimons and Williams (2000): NC p { [ ]} 1 LM + LR ⫺ HM ⫺ HR HM + HR ⫺ . we furthermore extended prior research on superstition by providing important evidence of the nonconscious nature of superstitious beliefs. GENERAL DISCUSSION This research is one of the first to investigate the impact of irrational beliefs on consumer behavior in the marketplace (see also Morales and Fitzsimons 2007).118 on Thu. It is important to note that by using a process dissociation technique advanced by Fitzsimons and Williams (2000). For example. for gambles with more uncertain outcomes. that reliance on superstitions tends to increase in times of uncertainty (Keinan 2002. Finally. subjects made significantly more risk-averse choices (i. we found that when primed with Friday the thirteenth. After we obtained the impact of superstition salience on the choice share of the safe option under the four key conditions (LM. In order to demonstrate the culturally relevant effects of superstitious beliefs.176. LR. that the nonconscious process of superstitious beliefs is not likely to generalize to superstitious rituals. there had been much anecdotal evidence to support this popular psychological theory of superstition (see Tsang [2004] for a review). Malinowski 1954). Tsang (2004) provided such anecdotal evidence. we found evidence of the role of nonconscious processing in the effect of superstition. In addition. HM. Based on anthropological work he conducted in the early 1900s.S. A series of studies found a robust effect of superstitious beliefs on consumers’ satisfaction judgments and risk-taking behavior. Related research by the current TABLE 2 CHOICE SHARE OF THE SAFE OPTION BY CONDITION Condition Low cognitive load. Discussion Study 3 once again showed the impact of negative superstitious beliefs on decision making under risk. along with qualitative informant quotes to suggest that Chinese executives invoke superstitions as a coping mechanism to deal with uncertain business decisions. compared to an increase of 9. and Chinese parents consciously give red envelopes for the New Year. we were able to separate the effect of superstition on decision making into its distinct conscious and nonconscious components. 25 Feb 2016 13:23:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the noncon- scious component in this study was greater than the conscious one by a factor of three.e. As suggested by the results of the first two studies. our final study found support for another prevalent speculative assertion in the superstition literature.. Note. we limited this study to judgments of product satisfaction (Taiwanese participants) and decision making (U. in a consumer domain. As a matter of fact.5% in choice share due to the conscious component of the superstition effect under high cognitive load (CSh) and a slight increase of 3% under low cognitive load (CSl). participants). reduced (HR) Superstitious prime Control prime Impact of superstition salience 45 50 42 59 20 31 27 63 +25 +19 +15 ⫺4 This content downloaded from 168. In particular.

the BIGL scale assesses the degree to which individuals believe that luck is a stable quality that they possess (i. Bargh. less) sensitive to the disconfirmation of expectations. Robert S. In particular. importantly.. 7). which is likely to moderate the effect. For example. It would be interesting to test how this stable trait influences chronically or temporarily accessible culturally shared superstitious beliefs. related work by the current authors demonstrates that differences in product satisfaction due to superstitious associations are greater for consumers who are more (vs. thereby forgoing a discount. thinking about Friday the thirteenth may have raised levels of anxiety for the participants in studies 2 and 3. it is likely that attributions of product failure may differ across conditions according to superstitious beliefs.444. The current research also opens the door to many worthwhile avenues of future research.555. In addition. It is possible that priming superstitious beliefs may be accompanied with an increase/decrease of appropriate emotions. That is. 1–40. the results of the current research are based on hypothetical choice scenarios. we did not test for the more specific process underlying the effect.176. on purchase likelihood (details can be obtained from the authors). high belief in good luck) versus just random and beyond their control (i. the effect of superstitious beliefs on risk-taking behavior is not likely to be the same for all consumers. 28 (June). “The Four Horsemen of Automaticity: Awareness. Findings that superstitious beliefs can cause consumers to violate economic rationality provide supportive evidence that superstitions work at a nonconscious level. Swee Hoon (1997). Next. one might investigate the proposition that superstitious beliefs result in biased information processing. Ang. The findings of this combined research stream have important implications for marketing managers in that marketers may be able to strategically manage satisfaction and purchase likelihood through consumers’ performance expectations with relatively easy-to-implement attribute changes in color or price. In addition. Counter to economic rationality. it has limitations that need to be acknowledged. Taiwanese consumers were more likely to purchase a portable radio when it was priced at a higher but lucky TW$888 than when the same radio was priced at a lower but neutral TW$777. and Control in Social Cognition. ed. (1994). First.118 on Thu.5. we propose that superstitious beliefs set up product performance expectations that drive the differential levels of satisfaction demonstrated in study 1. Bargh. Yet. it would be interesting to take this research further by investigating the consequences of these findings. Chartrand (1999). In a separate study.” Journal of Consumer Research. John A. 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